When the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital kicked off 20 years ago, it was attended by 1,200 people. Now in its 20th anniversary, the festival draws crowds of over 30,000 at venues around the city. This year's festival which wrapped up last weekend was the biggest yet: 180 films; environmental leaders and big name filmmakers like Ken Burns; packed movie houses around the city. We saw only a small fraction of the movies, but even these few generated lots of exciting discussion. Here’s a run-down of what we saw:
Revenge of the Electric Car
Synopsis: Large automakers (GM, Nissan) and small upstarts (Tesla, Greg Abbott) alike roll out their electric vehicle offerings in the face of dwindling oil supplies and a fluctuating economy. The film focuses on the leadership of these companies, their unique, sometimes over-the-top personalities and their reasons for betting their chips on electric vehicles.
Take Home Message: It was neat to see former GM CEO Bob Lutz, long known for producing gas-guzzlers, embrace the Chevy Volt as his company’s crown jewel. Panelist after the film explained that Revenge captures a specific moment in time and that battery and alternative fuel technology is moving at an even faster pace than the movie portrays. Ultimately, though, the design of our cities will be more central to the future of mobility than the design of our cars.
Synopsis: A proposed wind farm off Cape Cod, Massachusetts (Cape Wind) sets off a firestorm of local and national political debate, legal wrangling, media coverage and strange bedfellows for and against the project. A case study of American politics in action, the film gives each side of the debate equal coverage, revealing the difficulty of reaching consensus on environmental and energy issues.
Take Home Message: It’s important to have good communication with local people when planning energy projects. Other coastal states around the U.S. are considering their own projects – will they be as contentious as Cape Wind was? Meanwhile, Europe churns out energy from its own 53 offshore wind farms.
Synopsis: Most of us take the word “progress” for granted, particularly technological and economic progress. This film, produced by Martin Scorsese, proposes that conventional notions of progress are actually putting us on a collision course with environmental disaster. Based on Ronald Wright’s best-selling book, A Short History of Progress, the film is grand in scope and visually stunning.
Take Home Message: The technological solutions that we create to address environmental problems often cause new problems. In the end, the most important changes should come not from technological innovation, but changes to our cultural values. Start by asking yourself what the most important things in your life are (loved ones, strong communities, health, purpose) and build solutions from there.
Synopsis: Shortly following Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, director Lucy Walker travels to the ravaged Tohoku region to interview survivors about their relationship to the country’s steadfast symbol: the cherry blossom.
Take Home Message: Nature’s persistent character provides solace for those suffering under even the most horrible circumstances. To hear survivors talk about their personal reflections on cherry blossoms while in the midst of tragedy captures the sorrow and remarkable tenacity of the human spirit.
Waking the Green Tiger: The Rise of the Green Movement in China
Synopsis: A film crew and domestic journalists visit rural villages in China to help local people find their voice in the fight against dam projects. The film also looks at the history of environmentalism in China from its dark days under Mao’s Zedong’s Cultural Revolution to today's glimmers of democratic protest.
Take Home Message: Stories about environmental issues in China tend to focus on global competition for energy resources (where China’s growth is often used as a scapegoat for inaction elsewhere), factory conditions or pollution. Waking the Green Tiger interviews some of the strongest voices in China’s domestic environmental movement, providing a different and hopeful perspective on the country’s challenges. Also shows how closely cultural survival is linked to environmental concerns in places like China’s wild and beautiful west.
A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet
Synopsis: Providing much-needed historical and global context to today’s environmental challenges, A Fierce Green Fire charts the origins of the modern environmental movement along with its major players, its setbacks, victories and future challenges.
Take Home Message: Whether it was the Sierra Club working to prevent dams in the Grand Canyon or homeowners fighting for their family’s health during the Love Canal crisis, environmental activists have always had to work against great forces to get their voices heard. Still, contemporary issues like global warming and the rapid loss of biodiversity present an even greater imperative to work together for the future of the planet. Inspiring.
EarthShare members working on the issue: Everyone!
So you volunteer and make responsible purchasing decisions and give to environmental charities through the EarthShare @ Work program, but is it possible your retirement fund and other investments are undermining those efforts? How can you ensure that your financial investments aren’t hurting the planet? Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) and Impact Investing offer ways to finance businesses that are doing good while securing your financial future.
Here are some tips for getting into green investing:
Examine your holdings. Have you ever taken a careful look through the holdings in your mutual funds? Surprised to find some industries in there you find distasteful? The first step in green investing is understanding how your money is being used and asking if your personal financial gains are worth the cost to the environment or society.
Ask your financial advisor if they offer socially responsible mutual funds. Most of the common financial companies now offer such options. In addition to environmental concerns, they may also screen for human rights, product safety and more. Make sure you understand the methods used to screen the companies in these funds.
Consider green investment companies. Besides the major financial companies that offer SRI options, there are many well-established companies that specialize exclusively in SRI funds. These include Calvert, Pax World, Winslow Green, and Domini among others. Check out socialfunds.com to learn more.
Do some research. Read the fine print tofind out about fees you might have to pay. Decide whether you’d like to invest in small or large companies, domestic or international, or some mix. SRI funds have slightly underperformed their less scrutinizing counterparts historically, so plug your fund’s code into a website like Morningstar to get a sense of potential returns.
Invest in the community. Investing doesn’t have to be a dry, distant process. Many sites like Kickstarter, Kiva and Acumen Fund allow you to interact with the people benefited by your investment and stay engaged with the results. Whether you want to help someone set up an urban farm in North Carolina or run a small textile business in India, small-scale investing is rewarding beyond a financial statement.
Go beyond mutual funds. Have a friend who’s trying to start up a clean tech company? If you’re savvy enough, you might consider buying individual stocks in companies you care about. Find a green financial advisor or read books on the topic for advice on this trickier, but potentially more rewarding, domain.
Get active. As a stockholder, you have more sway with a company than the average person, so use your position to advocate for sustainable change. Known as “shareholder activism” stockholders can attend annual meetings, participate in proxy votes, communicate with management and more to suggest changes to company policies. Shareholders at ExxonMobil, for example, petitioned the company to take stronger steps to address climate change.
Socially responsible investment is a means to interact with your money beyond mere numbers. With SRI, you can harness the power of your investments for the betterment of society and the planet.
[The content here is provided for your personal information only, is not intended for trading purposes, and cannot substitute for professional financial advice. Always seek advice of a competent financial advisor with any questions you may have regarding a financial matter.]
A recent study purports that, based on four decades of youth surveys, Millennials are less inclined than Generation X or Baby Boomers to protect our environment.
I frankly have a hard time buying that.
When comparing generations, it must be noted that 40 years ago, Earth Day was brand new and the idea of being an “environmentalist” was considered rather radical. Since then, views and practices have changed significantly. We no longer take for granted resources like clean air and water, and most Americans practice at least some degree of conservation. It’s part of a modern lifestyle and young people often don’t feel the need to report these actions – they just take them.
Ironically, as this new study broke, SCA was hosting a record number of college students in nationwide “alternative spring break” programs at national parks across America. The leadership example set by these and other outstanding young stewards provides an important counterbalance to the Millennial study.
At Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California, 30 college students spent their spring break reforesting a burned-out hillside and pulling invasive plants “as big as Saint Bernards” according to one participant. “During one particularly miserable dig,” recalled Jonathan Shafer, an Auburn University grad student, “two of us took turns hewing our way through what felt like solid rock. After half an hour’s work, we managed to dig a hole 18 inches deep, just big enough to settle a new Joshua Tree. As a group, we repeated this task 105 times over several acres of the burn site.
“None of us really wants to go back to school,” Jonathan continued. “But we return home with a new respect for natural spaces, our impact on them, and the importance of maintaining them for future generations.”
Taylor Holan is a first-year student at John Carroll University in Ohio, who joined an SCA crew in the Everglades to remove noxious Brazilian pepper plants from the park’s infamous Hole-in-the Donut. In our wired world, Taylor believes conservation service prevents nature from “getting lost among all those gigabytes floating around.”
“I’m here,” she notes, “to learn as much as I can in the Everglades – about ecosystems, threatened species, restoration plans, and more – and share that knowledge with anyone willing to listen. When someone has a passion for something, it’s contagious, and I plan on infecting everyone around me.”
In an op-ed column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, SCA’s Timarko Mitchell, a student at UA Pine Bluff, wrote eloquently about why he applied to NPS Academy, a workforce diversity program jointly sponsored by SCA and the National Park Service designed to prepare underrepresented students for park careers. “Our national parks, monuments, battlefields and historic sites are permanent gifts to our country, touchstones of a common legacy. In many ways, they represent the soul of America. I look forward to helping other people—young and old, of all colors and cultures—celebrate our diverse national heritage.”
Timarko closed his column by noting the newest national park is the memorial in Washington, D.C. to Dr. Martin Luther King, and then quoted King as saying “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” Timarko’s message is hardly that of a disengaged Millennial.
As national service surges in popularity thanks to waves of young adults who seek only to only give back, conservation is consistently among their top priorities. When federal officials conducted their recent America’s Great Outdoors listening tour, they asked young people what they most wanted from government. The answer: more service and career opportunities in national parks, forests and other public lands. And as summer approaches, SCA is looking at yet another all-time high in applications.
I’m sure there is much to be learned from those 40 years of surveys but over the past 55 years, more than 65,000 young men and women have protected nature through SCA and many more have served with other corps.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012 | By EarthShare | No Comments
Green Quiz Challenge – Film Industry Footprint
Lots of movie stars get press for their commitment to environmental causes, whether it’s Leonardo DiCaprio for his work with tiger conservation, Mark Ruffalo for his fight against gas fracking or Cameron Diaz’s involvement with environmental books, concerts and film. But making movies carries a heavy carbon footprint with its demanding electricity needs. LA’s film industry, in fact, is the second-largest polluter in the city, next to the oil industry!
For April's Green Quiz Challenge, we’re testing your knowledge of green films.
Some producers are stepping up to change Hollywood’s dirty image. Which big studio film was the first to be produced carbon neutral?
A. The Matrix, 1999 B. Erin Brockovich, 2000 C. Syriana, 2006 D. Slumdog Millionaire, 2009
The correct answer is C. Syriana. Congratulations to our green quiz winners: Julie E. Gabrielli, Randy Baranczyk, and Lisa Siniscalchi!
Syriana, a political thriller about the global oil industry was a natural candidate for carbon offsetting. The plot follows a cast of characters including a CIA agent, energy analyst, refinery workers, and the prince of a Gulf country as they clamor for the world’s dwindling oil supplies. Warner Bros. Pictures and Participant Productions offset 100% of the film’s production emissions (travel, hotel use, generators, shipping, and more) by helping to fund the construction of a methane generator and wind farm on native land in the Midwest through NativeEnergy. The production company chose to offset the film’s emissions because “Participant exists to use films as a means for social change and this is one more way we can lead by example and help to bring awareness to the industry that offsetting carbon dioxide emissions is a viable option.”
Volunteers are also invited to the post-cleanup Earth Day Celebration at Kingman Island for free food and entertainment! Come share the satisfaction that comes with taking care of our communities and natural resources!
Wednesday, March 14, 2012 | By EarthShare | No Comments
Catching up with Bethesda Green
David Feldman was working for the British Embassy in the 2000s, helping businesses from the U.S. set up shop in the U.K. and vice versa when he was struck by how aggressively the U.K. was courting clean energy and other sustainable companies. The U.S., meanwhile, lagged behind on such ventures. Recognizing that green businesses here could use a champion, Feldman left the service of the Queen in 2007 and joined a consultancy, The Livability Project, to help communities in the U.S. grow sustainable infrastructure and services.
The consultancy has helped a handful of cities in Maryland and California establish green community hubs through some combination of public/private/nonprofit partnerships. Earlier this month, EarthShare had a chance to tour one of the country’s most successful models, the nonprofit Bethesda Green, founded in 2009.
Bethesda Green, an EarthShare Mid-Atlantic member charity based in the Maryland city of the same name, has established a plethora of programs and events that benefit the community including a city recycling bin fundraiser, a green internship fair, and local farm visits. They also hold workshops on everything from clean tech and building efficiency to composting. But perhaps their most unique program has been their Green Incubator.
Business incubators aren’t a new idea, but an incubator devoted to green ventures is a rarity (do a web search on “green incubator” and you’ll find Bethesda Green has all the top hits). The incubator supports 14 businesses and nonprofits from a LEED certification specialist and rain barrel company to an environmental filmmaker and local nature conservancy. The many organizations share a welcoming space in a downtown Bethesda building provided by Capital One. Offices, educational displays and meeting rooms fill the suite.
Mark Leisher, a filmmaker and one of the green incubator tenants
Typical economic development assumes a model of competition while Bethesda Green values collaboration above all else. “This isn’t a traditional incubator,” says Feldman. “It’s a community.”
Heather Phipps, program manager at the nonprofit Rock Creek Conservancy (one of the incubator organizations) agrees. “It’s been a wonderful partnership for us,” she says. “It’s a hotbed of green activity.” The other tenants echo the sentiment: having many passionate, environmentally-minded people gathered in one place is a great source of creativity and support.
Monthly incubator meetings, guest speakers, a partnership with the University of Maryland and strong relationships with the local chamber of commerce, businesses and government bodies have allowed the incubator to flourish after just three years. Now many other city leaders in the region are coming to the incubator to learn how to set up similar programs in their own communities.
“We’ve done an incredible amount with very little money,” Feldman says. Funding for Bethesda Green comes primarily from corporate sponsorships and in-kind donations. Other sources include the incubator’s own revenue, events, donations, foundation support, local government funds, and the EarthShare @ Work giving program.
While this particular funding mix has worked for Bethesda Green, programs elsewhere may have a different approach depending on their community’s resources.
Feldman has found that communities seldom lack for an interest in sustainability; they often just don’t know how to assess their resources or implement their ideas. “Part of what we do is connect the dots and accelerate the process,” he says.
Bethesda Green has proven to be a test kitchen of sorts for sustainable business. Feldman sees the organization growing not necessarily in size, but in results and connections, ensuring its example will be adopted around the region and beyond.
Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK has one of the few Green Computing degree programs in the world. We asked the program’s founder, Colin Pattinson, to tell us about the future of sustainable IT as both a field of study and an industry mindset.
How did you become interested in green computing?
My PhD work was in measuring the performance of network protocols. It’s a small step from measuring and controlling data transfer rates and system behavior in a network to measuring and controlling energy use.
Many of the first initiatives in energy saving often landed on the network and system managers’ desk: things like virtualization of servers and desktop power management are network and system changes. As IT uses 10-20% of a typical organization’s electricity, changes in IT can make a difference. We are currently exploring what data center changes have the greatest effect.
More recently, there’s been a shift from saving energy in IT to saving energy by IT: using technology to manage and control other aspects of operations. This is best seen in areas like smart meters; smart transport systems; smart homes, etc. We are currently running a project in the university to connect the room timetabling system with the heating and lighting controls to make heat and light follow room use more closely.
Where did the idea for this program come from?
We recognized that demand for people with the skills and knowledge needed to take on the “green IT” role will grow. In large organizations there may well be a full job role; in smaller companies, the role might be combined with that of the network/system manager. We also expect there to be a growing consultancy demand. The program is aimed at people who have been in the industry for a few years, often in technical management roles who wish to develop their skills.
How is sustainability viewed within the IT industry in general?
It’s very mixed. To some it’s a central part of what they do and who they are; others see it as a marketing opportunity; others as a cost saving, yet others as an expense or a collection of red tape to be adhered to (or avoided).
What achievements has the IT industry made in sustainability? Where is there still much work to be done?
Most of the so-called quick wins are fairly well known by now: server virtualization, lower energy PCs and monitors, and power management at the desktop have made a difference in traditional workstation server environments; and alternative approaches to service provision like cloud and thin client are promoted for a combination of power and operational efficiency.
These achievements have all been based around changing the way the technology operates: the challenge now is to make changes to the behavior of the users: print management leading to reduced paper use; automation of environmental controls and reductions in travel are all likely to affect people’s life and work. This is very important, but much more difficult to achieve without creating user resistance and rejection.
What recommendations would you give to those trying to start similar programs in their own university?
Make sure that potential students and employers are aware of the program; involve students from other programs in related areas of study in project work; ensure there is a strong connection between what is taught and what is researched; try to get others in the university involved (e.g. computer services, estates department); realize that the program is likely to be a niche area rather than a major part of the provision.
What’s one of the easiest actions that organizations can take to reduce the footprint of their IT department?
Beyond the technology-based quick wins listed above, the best thing is to get staff engagement with the cause and its purpose. Making it clear that there are real money savings from more efficient use of resources is likely to be more widely supported if employees can see the benefits – some organizations do this by direct reward, others through awareness-raising.
Friday, March 2, 2012 | By The Wilderness Society | No Comments
With lead stars Zac Efron and Taylor Swift, you might think that the Lorax is just for kids. But The Wilderness Society supporter Betty White also lends her voice to Grammy Norma, continuing her commitment to conservation for future generations.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
These are the worlds the Once-Ler, one of the main characters from Universal Pictures new movie, The Lorax. Based upon Dr. Seuss’ classic book of the same name, the movie follows a young boy, Ted, as he sets out from his artificial town to find a real living tree. Ted eventually meets the Once-Ler, a recluse who tells how he met the Lorax, the guardian of the forest, and how the magnificent Truffula trees were all chopped down.
Produced in part with the US Forest Service’s Discover the Forest campaign, the film simply explains the environmental conservation using bright colors and vibrant images. The Truffula forests are alive with birds, fish, swans, and bears. By contrast, the wastelands where the Truffula trees once stood are stark, barren landscapes. The Lorax uses these to show how one person, no matter how small, can have in order to make a difference for our environment.
The Lorax, in movie form and the original book, carries a message for for children and their parents alike. It inspires hope in the future and in doing so shows us that it’s up to us, and our children, to protect the earth we live on.
As the Once-ler says, “Truffula trees are what everyone needs…Plant a new tree, treat it with care. Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.”
Thursday, March 1, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
In a major speech on energy at the University of Miami, President Obama said rising gasoline prices are a “painful reminder” of the need for alternatives. He was on the offensive, trying to counter criticisms of the GOP presidential candidates—including Newt Gingrich, who promised he’d get gasoline down to $2.50 a gallon.
Rising oil prices, argued Bloomberg columnist Caroline Baum, “tap into a barrel of nonsense,” making people “go all wobbly in the head.” Backing up that idea is Media Matters’ laundry list of misconceptions common in energy reporting, which concluded that the only way to become less vulnerable to oil price spikes is to “use less oil. Period.”
Two former U.S. officials argued for a twist on the natural gas vehicle, calling for cars that can run on methanol, an alcohol that can be “efficiently and inexpensively produced from natural gas,” according to an MIT report.
Globally, natural gas vehicles have increased exponentially, with most of the growth in the past decade in Asia and Latin America.
However, a new climate modeling study by Nathan Myhrvold, former Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft, found that switching from coal to natural gas would do little to slow global warming.
Meanwhile, in the Washington Post, a bipartisan group of current and former Congressmen, called for taxes on greenhouse gas emissions as a way to fight climate change, lower oil imports and raise revenue that could help spur clean energy industries and reduce the debt. Beyond the authors of this op-ed, there may be further bipartisan support for such a plan.
The plaintiffs are also arguing that in issuing the “tailoring rule,” which limits greenhouse gas rules only to the biggest emitters, the EPA overstepped its bounds.
The judge hearing the case found the tailoring argument strange, saying that if the alleged harm is regulatory burden, but the remedy is a heavier regulatory burden, then the plaintiffs’ argument “doesn’t even make good nonsense.”
Gene Therapy for Climate Change
Climate Central lampooned geoengineering—ideas for planetary-scale projects to cool Earth—with its own set of not-so-serious proposals, including giving Maalox to livestock.
A research project at the Mote Marine Laboratory sounds like it might be another of these far-fetched plans, but it’s for real. A geneticist is investigating gene therapy for coral reefs—or, more specifically, for the bacteria that live symbiotically with the corals—to help them adapt to climate change.